JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien scored as Ghana defeated Sudan 2-0 in Accra Sunday to become the first African qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Inter Milan midfielder Sulley Muntari gave the 'Black Stars' an early lead and Essien added a second soon after half-time, unleashing a drive that flew into the net at the near post.
The result coupled with closest challengers Benin and Mali drawing 1-1 in Cotonou a few hours earlier left a Ghana side boasting a 100 percent record with an unassailable seven-point Group D advantage.
"It was so important to win, regardless of how we achieved the result. It is still special for us professionals to return home and bring joy to the people of Ghana," Essien told reporters.
"Teamwork brought us success as in previous qualifiers. The side did not feel under pressure because we are used to playing in front of packed crowds like the one in Accra tonight.
"The people of Ghana wanted us to win and we did not let them down. What a fantastic feeling to be the first African country to qualify for the first World Cup to be staged in Africa."
Serbia-born coach Milovan Rajevac said: "It is a priceless honour for my players to represent their country and qualify for the World Cup.
"This team is very hungry to go to the finals again. My players are aware of what they can achieve and have the quality to go far. I always believed we would qualify and am very confident about the future."
It will be the second successive World Cup appearance for Ghana, who did best of the five African teams in Germany three years ago by reaching the knockout second round before losing 3-0 to defending champions Brazil.
A quarter of the 32 qualifiers for the first World Cup are known with Ghana joining Australia, Brazil, Japan, Netherlands, North Korea, South Korea and hosts South Africa.
Mali had threatened to put the Accra celebrations on hold by taking the lead through former France youth international Mamadou Samassa on 71 minutes only for Mohamed Aoudou to equalise three minutes from full-time.
Tunisia snatched a 2-2 draw in Nigeria thanks to an 90th-minute Oussama Darragi goal in a top-of-the-table Group B clash and maintained a two-point advantage with two rounds left in October and November.
A capacity 60,000 crowd saw Osaze Odemwingie fire the 'Super Eagles' into the lead via a close-range shot midway through the first half only for Nabil Taider to level soon after.
Tunisia-based Michael Eneramo poked a a cross into the net 10 minutes from full-time to put the home team ahead again only for club mate Darragi to fire a Haitham Mrabet pass into the net from an acute angle.
Mozambique edged Kenya 1-0 in the same mini-league courtesy of a goal midway through the second half from veteran South Africa-based striker Manuel 'Tico Tico' Bucuane.
Tunisia have eight points, Nigeria six, Mozambique four and Kenya three with the leaders chasing a fourth consecutive appearance at the quadrennial showcase of international football.
Adel Taarabt scored two minutes into stoppage time as Morocco were rewarded for some enterprising second-half play with a 1-1 draw away to Togo in a Group A clash.
Togo led from the fourth minute through Moustapaha Salifou as they returned to Lome after a three-match ban following post-match violence at a 2008 African Nations Cup qualifier.
Gabon have six points, Togo five, Cameroon four and Morocco three although the 'Indomitable Lions' have a chance to go top Wednesday when they host the surprise pacesetters in Yaounde.
The five group winners qualify for the World Cup in South Africa between June 11 and July 11 and the top three finishers in each mini-league secure places at the Nations Cup five months earlier with hosts Angola.
|S. Muntari||14' 43'|
|Coach: M. Rajevac|
for S. Appiah 74'
for M. Amoah 86'
for S. Muntari 88'
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